The Story of the Greeks

Page: 121

To prevent his advance, and to hinder his getting even as much as a foothold in the peninsula, Aratus wanted to capture the fortress of Ac-ro-co-rin´thus, which barred the Isthmus of Corinth.

This undertaking was very difficult, because the fortress was perched upon a rock so high and steep that it was almost impossible to climb it.

A traitor, Di´o-cles, however, offered to show Aratus a way to climb this rock, provided that he should receive a certain reward. Although general of the Achæan League, and one of the greatest men of his day, Aratus was far from being rich; and, in order to obtain the required sum, he had to sell all he had, and even pawn his wife's few jewels.

Then, in the midst of the darkness, one rainy night, Diocles led the Achæan soldiers along a steep path, which they had to climb in Indian file.[Pg 270]

He brought them safely and unseen into the fortress, where they killed most of the Macedonian sentinels, and put the guards to flight. As soon as the key of the Peloponnesus had been thus daringly won, most of the other towns in the peninsula joined the league, and the Achæans gained such victories, that Antigonus Gonatus fell ill, and died of grief.

The Achæan League became stronger and stronger; and, although Sparta and a few other cities remained neutral, most of the small towns were freed from their tyrants. Such was the importance of the league, that the Roman ambassadors once came to ask for its aid to suppress the pirates who infested the neighboring seas.

This help was cheerfully given, and the Achæans entered into a treaty with the Romans. They little suspected, however, that the city whose name was then almost unknown would in less than a hundred years become strong enough to subdue them, and be mistress over all Greece.


While the Achæan League was doing its best to restore Greece to its former power, Sparta had remained inactive. The Spartans had changed greatly since the days of Lycurgus. They no longer obeyed his wise laws, and, instead of being brave and frugal, they were greedy, lazy, and wicked.

One of their kings was named Leonidas; but he was[Pg 271] in no way like his great namesake, the king who had fallen at Thermopylæ. Indeed, he married an Eastern wife, and to please her assumed all the pomp and led the idle life of an Eastern king.

His fellow-king, on the other hand, was such a miser that he heaped up great treasures. When he died, his wife and mother were said to have more gold than the city and people together. The miser king was succeeded by his son, but this young man's sole ambition was to restore Sparta to its former condition.

His name was A´gis. He lived like the Spartans of old, practiced all the virtues of his ancestors, and was frugal and brave in the extreme. To restore Sparta, real Spartans were needed, but, in counting them over, Agis found that there were only about seven hundred of the old stock left. The first move was to restore equality. For that purpose, all the money and land would have to be equally divided, so Agis began by persuading his own mother and grandmother to give up their wealth. Leonidas did not like the plan of equality, and soon openly opposed it, although his son-in-law Cleombrotus sided with Agis, and upheld it.